President Obama faced the press briefly today in a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron. He got out in front of the IRS scandal by condemning the actions of officials who targeted conservative organizations for special treatment. But his response to a question about the Benghazi terror attack demonstrated that he has yet to come to terms with the fact that the administration won’t be able to go on pretending the issue can be ignored as a case of partisan sniping by Republicans.
But what was most instructive about the president’s presentation at the press conference was the contrast between the clinical way in which he described his disagreement with the blatantly illegal actions of the IRS and the passionate manner with which he claimed there was “nothing new” to discuss about Benghazi while demanding that the press and the public ignore the growing pile of troubling evidence of incompetence, cowardice and lies by administration figures in the days preceding and following the attack on 9/11/12 that took the lives of four Americans.
The president had a chance to acknowledge that what the American people were told last September was the product of talking points concocted by his aides in order to deflect attention from the revival of al-Qaeda as well as the administration’s culpability for failing to provide security for U.S. personnel. But instead he chose to bluster and sarcastically treat the whole thing as a plot by Republicans to make a mountain out of a molehill. And his use of terms like “sideshow” to describe the growing inquiries about the discrepancies between what was said then and the truth or to claim “there’s no there there” tells us more about his arrogant approach to governing than it does about the shelf life of this scandal.
The president’s barely concealed rage about having to answer questions about Benghazi explains Jay Carney’s tap dance last week in front of a frustrated White House press corps when he denied that there was any contradiction between the lies told by the administration eight months ago and the equally disingenuous spin it has been trying to sell the country in the last week. Clearly, Carney’s boss is taking the position that neither he nor the subordinates who did his dirty work for him on Benghazi have anything to answer for. Yet rather listen to any counsel about owning up to the problem and thereby taking the sting out of the attacks coming in from Republicans, the president is letting his temper get the best of him.
The premise of the president’s Benghazi tirade is twofold.
On the one hand, he seems to genuinely believe there was nothing wrong with a set of talking points that deliberately omitted the fact that Benghazi was a terror attack and tried to foist the false story that it was a case of a movie review run amok. But his claim that this narrative—which fit like a glove with his re-election campaign boasts about having destroyed al-Qaeda—was the product of the best intelligence available at the time is flatly contradicted by the emails between staffers about the talking points.
While the president insists there’s nothing new to discuss, the emails and the testimony of the whistle-blowers to Congress last week makes it clear there’s plenty of evidence to show that there was a deliberate intention to deceive the American people by both the State Department and the White House. His Nixonian denial of the problem illustrates not only his arrogance but also the way the White House bubble insulates him from political reality and inconvenient facts. Far from being a sideshow, the president’s rhetorical question about his critics providing help in ensuring that these events are not repeated is easily answered. The best way to do so is make sure those who made these mistakes are held accountable for them.
The president’s demeanor also indicates his confidence that the liberal mainstream media as well as Democrats will continue to support an administration stonewall on Benghazi. Accustomed as he is to a press that goes into the tank for him and an adoring public, he has little patience with the thought of having to apologize or backtrack from a stance that absolves the White House of any responsibility for what occurred in Benghazi or the lies that followed it. He seems sure that if he keeps saying Benghazi is just a GOP attack, he’ll get away with it. But, as I wrote yesterday, the cracks starting to appear in an otherwise solid, liberal wall of omerta about the administration’s folly may be the prelude to a general free-for-all in the press that will follow once a congressional investigation with subpoena power starts to unravel the web of deception and incompetence.
Obama’s challenge now places the ball squarely in the court of House Speaker John Boehner, who has the power to create a select committee to get to the bottom of the Benghazi mess. What the president did today was to more or less dare Boehner to do so. He should not delay in picking up the gauntlet and unleash investigators who may take the smirk off of the president’s face.